Trinity Twenty Six Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Matthew 25:31-46| November 16, 2003
There can be no right and wrong if God has not determined what is right and wrong. God is the only One who has the right to decide what is right and what is wrong. We live during a time of moral relativism. Everyone decides for himself what is right and wrong, good and evil, true and false. But if I can decide what is right for me, and you can decide what is right for you then there really isn’t a right or a wrong. There are only human opinions that can change. And they do.
When I was a boy abortion was a crime and abortionists were criminals. Homosexuality was a shameful perversion to which nobody would admit publicly. Good boys and girls kept their virginity until they married. It was not considered funny to see a child showing disrespect to his parents. Cursing and swearing were wrong. Parents, teachers, and others in authority condemned cheating, stealing, and lying. There was a general consensus in our country about what is right and what is wrong.
People debate the question of whether or not America is a Christian nation. In one sense it is obviously not a Christian nation and it never was. After all, the Constitution of the United States forbids the establishment of a national religion for America. On the other hand, the Christian religion has had a profound influence on our country. It has not been until recently that the standards of right and wrong that are taught in the Holy Scriptures – specifically in the Ten Commandments – have been rejected by a significant portion of our country. But this has most certainly happened. The permanent standards of right and wrong determined by God Himself are no longer the standard for our country.
If there are no objective standards of right and wrong that cannot change there can be no Judgment Day. By what standard could anyone be judged if there is no unchanging standard that applies equally to everyone? When people no longer believe that God has set down permanent standards of right and wrong their view of God changes radically. No longer is God the Judge of the human race. No longer is the Day of Judgment a real event in the future for which they must prepare themselves. The biblical warning to be ready for Judgment Day does not resonate with people who no longer believe they can know the difference between right and wrong.
As we come to the close of the church year we consider Judgment Day. We know that right is right and wrong is wrong. We know that the God who made us in His image and who justly requires that we obey His law has every right to judge us according to our works. To deny this is to deny God, His law, and the very concept of justice. While the moral relativists deny Judgment Day, their denial will no more prevent this judgment from occurring than denying gravity will enable a man to fly. Everyone will stand before the Judge on the last day. Those whose bodies lie in the grave or have utterly dissolved into dust will be raised from the dead. They and those still living will be brought before the Judge. The God to whom everyone must give an account will judge this world in righteousness. Everyone will stand before the Judge to be judged.
Jesus Christ will be the Judge. Jesus is the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man. He is the Son of God because He was begotten of His Father before time began. He is true God. There has never been a time when He was not the Son of God. He is the Son of God from everlasting to everlasting. He is the Son of Man because He is the true God become a true man. While He received His divine nature from His Father from eternity, He received His human nature in time from the Virgin Mary. He became the Man to represent mankind. He is the one and only Man to live the life all of humanity was required to live. No one but the Son of Man was the true man in every respect. He is the one true Man.
Since Jesus is both true God and true man it is appropriate that He should judge all of mankind when this world comes to an end. God will judge. The perfect Man will judge. He is one and the same Person. Who else but the Righteous One should stand in judgment of all flesh? He is the King of kings. He purchased His kingdom by shedding His blood on the cross. He was the suffering Servant. Who could see in His suffering the eternal and glorious kingdom that He now enjoys? He did not appear to be so very glorious. He looked like no kind of king at all. He appeared to be weak and helpless. He humbly endured mockery and slander. He suffered the curse of God against all sinners. But in His holy suffering, he defeated all of the powers of hell. He gained the victory of mankind over the devil. He crushed the lying head of the serpent. He, the promised Seed of the woman, took away from Satan his power to accuse God’s children. When Jesus died His suffering was finished forever. He descended into hell to declare His victory over the devil and his demons. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. On the final day of human history when the time has come for everyone to stand before God and to give an account, Jesus will sit on the throne of His glory and He will judge this world.
While the religious left had given up on Judgment Day altogether, the religious right has embraced the ancient Jewish heresy of an earthly thousand-year reign of the Christ before the end of the world. But the Bible knows nothing of the various millennial myths that preoccupy people’s imaginations and sell millions of books. Think of the time and money wasted promoting elaborate theories about pre, post, or mid tribulation raptures, millennial kingdoms, battles of Armageddon, interlocking obscure passages from the Book of Revelation with events unfolding in the Middle East. It’s enough to give the study of the end times a bad name! In fact, the Bible describes the end of the world very simply. On a day known only to God, Jesus will return to judge. He will divide the righteous from the unrighteous. The righteous will go into eternal life. The unrighteous will go way into everlasting punishment. Millennial fantasies notwithstanding, the Apostles’ Creed says it the way it is: “From thence He shall return to judge the living and the dead.” The righteous will go to heaven and the unrighteous will go to hell.
Jesus calls the righteous His sheep. He calls the unrighteous the goats. The sheep belong to the Shepherd. The goats do not. This is what Jesus says about His sheep.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
The sheep do not become sheep by what they do. They don’t make themselves into sheep. They are sheep because God has chosen them. What does Jesus say? “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” You don’t choose your own inheritance. It is chosen for you. The sheep are of God. Since they are of God they hear God’s words. Since they are sheep, they listen to their Shepherd’s voice. In hearing the gospel that gives them the forgiveness of sins, God brings them to faith and keeps them in the true faith. They believe what they hear. They trust in the Shepherd’s voice because it is the voice that gives them eternal life. It is a voice of pardon. They follow that voice because it is the voice of life. If you hear the voice of the Shepherd and trust in His gospel you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd and you are righteous. If you do not hear the voice of the Shepherd and do not trust in His gospel you are not a sheep of the Good Shepherd and you are not righteous. There are only two kinds of people who will be gathered before the Judge on the last day. They are identified here as the sheep and the goats. The sheep belong to the Good Shepherd. They serve Him. The goats do not belong to the Good Shepherd. They do not serve him.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He identifies with them. That is, He joins His identity to them when He makes them Christians. He shows them the Father. He serves them. Not that He can be placed under their authority. No, the Christians remain under Christ’s authority. But His authority is exercised in His ministry to them. He rules over them by serving them. This is not like the authority of the world where rulers talk about being servants of the people while grasping at more and more power over them so that they can get more and more money, prestige, and job security. Jesus has no need for what we have to give. He has all He needs. He serves His Christians by washing them clean of their sins in Holy Baptism. He serves them by teaching them and preaching to them. He sees them falling into sin, false doctrine, and foolish errors. He loves them. He seeks them out. He gently corrects them. He tells them His gospel again and again and again. He feeds them with His own body and blood by which they were set free from sin. He does this so that they can know without any doubt that they belong to God as God’s dear children. The sheep of the Good Shepherd love their Good Shepherd. They love Him because He loves them so much.
These sheep cannot see Jesus, their Shepherd, but they can serve Him. They serve Him by serving His Christians. So tightly does Jesus bind Himself to His church that he regards any good thing we do for His brothers – that is, for His Christians – as being done for Him. Before Saul became Paul he persecuted Christ’s church. Jesus called to him from heaven and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus is the head and the church is His body. Whatever we do for those who belong to Christ we do for Christ Himself. Whatever love we show to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we show to Christ.
Was not Jesus hungry in the wilderness and didn’t He cry out in thirst while suffering for our sins? Was he not rejected as a stranger even when He came to His own people? Was He not stripped naked and shamed and nailed to the cross? Did He not bear all of our sins and sicknesses as well? And wasn’t He suffering the prison of hell itself while bearing in His holy body and soul the sin of the whole world? All this He did out of love for us all, to redeem us from sin and death and the power of the devil. This is why Christians care for their brothers and sisters. Christ wants us to see Him in His Christians. No, they don’t look like Him and they don’t act like Him. But when we show the love described in these words to the least of Jesus’ brothers, we are feeding Jesus and quenching His thirst. We are providing Him with hospitality even when His own people denied it to Him. We are clothing Him, caring for Him, and visiting Him in His need. He, who has no need of any good work we could ever do accepts and praises our feeble works as being of the greatest value. He who cannot be repaid for what He has given because the price is infinitely too great has condescended to accepts the service we render to our fellow Christians as being given to Him.
The goats, who care nothing for the forgiveness of sins won by the bitter suffering of Jesus, can hardly understand what is so precious in these Christian offerings to Christ. They think nothing of Christians because they think nothing of Christ. They do what they do for the reward they get in this life. Whether they are the self-righteous Mason, Jew, or Muslim working their way to heaven or the self-indulgent hedonist who worships at the altar of temporal pleasure, they belong to the same class of people. They think they have no need of Christ offering up His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death for them. They are not sheep of the Good Shepherd. They do nothing for Christ or for His Christians. And because they will not know Him, Jesus will not know them. He will disown them before the whole world and send them to the hell prepared for the devil and his angels.
How do we prepare for the unknown hour of Christ’s return and the Day of Judgment? We listen. We listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. That voice is the heavenly manna of Christ’s flesh and blood that feeds our souls. It is the water of life that springs up within us forever quenching our thirst. It provides the home of God’s own eternal hospitality. It covers us with the robe of the blood-bought righteousness of Jesus Christ that cannot fail us in the Day of Judgment. It provides the spiritual health that lasts forever. It delivers us from prison and brings us into heaven where we will see face to face the Jesus who served us and who graciously accepted the sin-tainted service we offered to Him. When you know the Judge of the living and the dead as your Savior from sin, you are ready for Judgment Day. So we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.”